Washington — The Democratic Party is about to tear itself into shreds if Sen. Edward M. Kennedy goes ahead with his threat to seek to win the presidential nomination by wooing away Carter delegates at the national convention in July.
So says Democratic Party national chairman John White, who claims that such a Kennedy move "would set up a scorched-earth policy that would destroy everything we have gained in terms of party reform and make the Chicago convention [of 1981 ] look like a sewing circle."
"What the Kennedy people are doing," Mr. White told reporters over breakfast here April 16, "is to ask delegates to double-cross those who voted for them. It would tear the party from end to end.
"It is the most crudely opportunistic, unethical move I have ever ssen in politics.It certainly won't succeed."
The aroused Mr. White continued: "Senator Kennedy should disavow any statement to that effect [the prospective delegate-raiding move] in his behalf. For 10 long years we have worked to assure fair play at the covention. And the overall effect of the Kennedy move is to deny the constituency its represenation at the convention and its part in the political processes."
Although Mr. White avoided attributing the Kennedy convention delegate raid strategy to the Massachusetts senator himself, Mr. Kennedy has outlined this possibility to reporters on several occasions.
Mr. White repeated his contention, however, that such a delegate raid "is not going to happen."
"It's a myth," he said. "The rules committee is not going to do it."
Yet the chairman was sufficiently concerned that this process might succeed that he was making sure his warning was put in terms that would be heard.
Would the President support that Mr. Kennedy if the senator won the nomination? Mr. White was asked. "If he is duly elected," the chairman said, "he is deserving of the President's support. But if he is unduly elected, we would have to take another look at it."
Mr. White said he thought Senator Kennedy would come around to support the President if hes is renominated.
The chairman seemed particularly annoyed at the Kennedy rationale for a possible raid of Carter delegates. "It is arrogance," he said, "to say the [the party] have to do it because Carter can't win."
What would Mr. White do if Senator Kennedy takes the nomination away from the President by a convention delegate raid? "I'd be kicked out if that happens," said the Democratic chairman who, in accordance with tradition, was selected for his job by President Carter.
Mr. White said that up until this Kennedy threat to take the convention away from Mr. Carter there realy had been "surprising unity" expressed during the Democratic presidential campaign.
When asked about Republican Rep. John B. Anderson's possible third-party candidacy, Mr. White said that "if he's unhappy, then maybe he ought to become a Democrat. There's a place for him in the Democratic Party.
"If John runs as an independent," said Mr. White, "he won't have any influence at all, except a negative one. He'll just take a lot of people cut of the process, which will definitely elect either a Democratic or a Republican president."